Character Development

Searching For Victims

No, I’m not a serial killer. But I have written about a serial killer. But not often. I scare myself. I have, however, been asked on occasion, “Where do you find the characters in your stories?” The answer, most of the time, is, “I meet them every day.” I call them my victims.

The type of work I have been involved in over the years always put me in contact with a wide variety of people. Some I only meet once, while others I get to know well, because of the nature of my job. The characteristics of the people I meet become the basis of characters I include in my stories.

I make mental notes on how someone speaks, or gestures while speaking. Sometimes I go out of my way to strike up a conversation with someone I find interesting. Maybe it’s their accent or how they avoid eye contact with anyone they talk to. Little things that let me know I can use a likeness of these people to create a character whose speech or actions will set them apart in a story.

Let me give you a few examples of my victims.

Roy: Always uses the word “Boss” when starting a conversation with visiting vendors, but never makes eye contact with any of them. His hands stay busy straightening shelves or checking his work device while talking. Every conversation is brief, as if he’s in a hurry to be somewhere.

Bobbie: If you say hello, be prepared to hear the events of the past week, in full detail. Works hard but is always open to a chance to discuss her kids and her coworkers. Can be pushy when given the chance to be in charge of a project. Her way is the only way. Until it doesn’t work.

Bill the Agitator: Bill has never met an authority figure he couldn’t or wouldn’t challenge. And he’s never met a solution he felt he couldn’t improve. Even when he didn’t understand the one in front of him.

Jimbo the Perfectionist: As long as the problem doesn’t need a speedy resolution, Jim is the man you want on the job. Every task is completed with skilled precision, despite having the equipment or machinery out of operation for an additional eight hours. Makes a great trainer, but lacks the urgency needed in many situations. Being a former engineer on nuclear submarines will do that to a person.

Dwight, “I know that”: Constantly seeking approval or guidance from others, he never fails to answer every offer of advice with, “I know that”, even though he doesn’t. Loyal as a German Shepherd, and just as defensive, Dwight is a confident person.

These are only a few examples of my so-called victims. I keep many of these in my mental files, but I keep a small notebook handy for making notes as I meet people. I recommend others to do the same. Then create a folder on your computer to maintain a detailed list of as many victims as possible. Victims help fill in the story lines of your protagonist and antagonist. You can also combine many of your victim characteristics to create a strong protagonist or antagonist.

Strong characters are as valuable as plot, if not more so, in any story. I like to begin the writing process by creating a strong character to build a story around. Sometimes, my character development begins with one of my victims, and I build on their personalities to create a strong yet vulnerable character.

Next time you visit your favorite coffee shop or café, maybe even your nail salon or thrift store, make some notes of how people talk or interact with others. Before you know it, you will be experienced in the art of searching for victims.

Gary Rodgers
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